Friday, December 31, 2010

A confession to make...

I bet you thought you might see "organizing our stuff...part II here today! Nope. No part II, not yet at least. I'll get to that soon.

I have a bit of a confession to make. I have to be careful about reading too many other great teachers' blogs out there! I get a bit jealous. Why in the world would I possibly be jealous? I LOVE my classroom (a bit too small and cramped...but still, I love it). I LOVE the school (The hall IS a bit long...but still, I love it). I LOVE my co-workers, my principal, the families I work with, the school and especially the children!

But, still, I find myself a bit jealous. Here's why:  In my classroom, there is very little "self-directed play". The children in my classroom struggle with self-directed play. But, you say, PLAY is how a child LEARNS! Yes, are correct. For those of you who teach classrooms with "typically developing children" or integrated classrooms where the MAJORITY of the children are "typically developing" (I know, I know. What IS typical.) it is difficult to imagine children NOT exploring and engaging in self-directed play. For some of you, it may be difficult to understand what the difference may be. 
One of my wonderful teacher associates, helping a child explore the sensory table!
Come into my classroom during center work someday. You will understand the difference. You may see a child pushing a button on a toy to hear the sound....over and over and over. You may see a child take a bucket of Legos and swish them around inside the bucket with his hands...for 30 min. You may see a child dump and fill containers...over and over and over. You may see a child crawl under a table, or tip over all the chairs, or request "Legos" and when assisted in reaching them throw them back at you or say "NO" and refuse to move at all...for 30 min.   

Now, of course, we intervene to assist children in learning HOW to play. But, that's just it, for most children LEARNING to play would be ridiculous! Children naturally know how to play, question the world, and explore their environment...right? Well, generally. The children in my classroom need to have assistance learning how to engage their world. And this is not easy to learn. 
Clapping to the beat when Blues musicians came to visit the preschool!
Play schemes tend to be "set up" and contrived and very unnatural. After repeated exposure to a very simple one or two step play scheme (example- feeding the baby doll or putting together a simple block road and driving a car on it) the children learn the routine. But, again, that's just's a routine. They then repeat this over and over and over....rarely moving beyond this, rarely expanding on this and rarely questioning if there is another way to do this. And, for some children we are exploring cause and effect and are not yet at the point of exploring play schemes.

If the child does move beyond simple play schemes, I quickly have them begin integrating into one of the integrated preschool classrooms so they can receive the benefit of all the other social and play skills the larger classrooms have to offer. For those of us who are still working on things in my classroom, I have tried to provide more typical experiences for the children by engaging in "reverse integration" or having several (usually 3 or 4) children from one of the integrated classrooms come to join us during center time. 
My former student teacher singing with a child.
This isn't a perfect solution though. The children from the integrated classroom LOVE the children in my classroom, they love our classroom in general (and we love them :) but they are often confused by the way my children "play". We try to be a bridge between two children and "interpret" for them, but this doesn't always work. The children in my classroom tend to have a very difficult time imitating others, which means they don't always get a huge amount out of other children visiting the classroom.

Now, I know, many times, the children in my classroom will begin to play in a more self-directed way...just at a later age. We just may not have the benefit of seeing it! But, for some children, this may never truly come.

Bottom Line...I get a bit jealous reading about setting up wonderful learning environments, providing wonderful learning materials and dramatic play items for children to engage in self-directed play. It is amazing to see the photos of children exploring these items independently and with such purpose! I get a bit jealous of the projects or themes that are incorporated so easily and the language that the children initiate in order to participate in these things. 
My other wonderful teacher associate, assisting a child in playing ring-around-the-rosie with another child!

Now, I know, I don't have a monopoly on being jealous about these things! I can sometimes see the hurt and disappointment and, yes, jealousy in the eyes of the parents of children with significant special needs. Because, no matter how special I make "Open House" or other family events, they have to walk past the classroom that has arts and craft items the children made independently displayed in the hall. They walk past the room filled with children and parents moving easily from activity to activity, exploring each item thoroughly and independently. They walk past the room with a table filled with food the children have made for their parents to have at open house, and the name tags with each child's written name, and the drawing of the person with an anecdotal note attached explaining the story the child told about their drawing. All of these things done fairly independently by the children in the classrooms.

I also know that sometimes the significance of the child's needs can often overwhelm even the most knowledgeable parent. (Read this post from The Other Lion - a parent of a former student of mine) And, even though, their child is making HUGE progress and is a wonderful person who has so much to offer, it is still difficult not to become a bit "jealous". I know that, no matter what, as a teacher, I experience only a fraction of what a parent does.

So, it does feel good to get this confession out! I know that my job is to provide MY students with what they need and the best possible and typical preschool experience possible. We will continue to provide play experiences for the children, although they may look different than most self-directed play. We will continue to provide the supports the children need and challenge them to reach their full potential! I may just continue to be a tad bit jealous when I read those great blog posts about self-directed play! 

Grab the "How Long is this Hall" Button!

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